London's best unsung museums
Firepower: Royal Artillery Museum
Housed in two buildings at the Royal Artillery’s base abutting the Thames, the museum covers the history of guns and gunpowder from Ancient China to contemporary Iraq. The first floor mixes antique weaponry with informative history, while the ground floor is given over to some serious hardware.
Best exhibit A mortar in the shape of a tiger.
Firepower: Royal Artillery Museum, Royal Arsenal, SE18 (8855 7755/www.firepower.org.uk). Woolwich Arsenal rail.
Thomas Coram, shipwright and businessman, was so horrified by the abandoned children he saw in London he spent 17 years raising funds to build the Foundling Hospital. The hospital doubled up as the country’s first public art gallery and concert hall, with paintings donated by William Hogarth and recitals by fellow governor George Frideric Handel.
Best exhibit The donated Hogarth paintings.
Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1 (7841 3600/www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk). Russell Sq tube.
A beautiful Hampstead house and the great psychoanalyst’s home after he fled Austria, the Freud Museum is not only preserved as it was when Sigmund died, but as it was in Austria when he fled in 1938. He had the position of everything in his study written down, so it could be exactly recreated in London.
Best exhibit The original couch.
Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 (7435 2002/ www.freud.org.uk). Finchley Rd tube.
FREELavishly charting the changing face of British domestic interiors, the Geffrye Museum is set out a bit like IKEA might have been in the year 1600. Named after former Lord Mayor Sir Robert Geffrye, it’s possibly the city’s most stylish museum, boasting a fine restaurant and an art exhibition space in the basement. Best exhibit Gardens showing the evolution of horticulture since the seventeenth century. Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Rd, E2 (7739 9893/www.geffrye-museum.org.uk). Old St tube/rail then 243 bus.
Grant Museum of Zoology
Grant Museum of Zoology
If you’re not fazed by the skeletons of a walrus, a baboon and a giant iguanadon that face the entrance, you’ll find many a fascinating animal specimen here (quite a lot of them preserved in glass jars, and plenty of skeletons). Part of University College London, it might at first appear chaotically cluttered, but specimens are carefully categorised into evolutionary groups.
Best exhibit A dodo (whose bones are stored in a box and laid out in specially cutout padding).
Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London, Gower St, WC1E (7679 2647/www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology). Goodge St tube.
The Guards Museum tells the story of the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards – the five regiments that, together with the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards, and the Blues and Royals, make up the Household Division of the Army. The museum is mostly given over to displays of uniforms, pictures and regimental silver but if you’ve always wondered just how uncomfortable those bearskin hats are, ask staff if you can try on the one they keep for the purpose.
Best exhibit The potty from a doll’s house with which Florence Nightingale used to administer liquor to the men she realised weren’t going to make it through the night.
Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, SW1 (7414 3271/www.theguardsmuseum.com). St James’s Park tube.
Guildhall Clockmakers' Museum
FREESituated in a single room within the Guildhall Library building, this collection of watches and clocks is reckoned to be the oldest in the world. The collection tells the story of clockmakers in London and Europe and contains some of the most decadent and spectacular timepieces you’ll ever lay your eyes on.Best exhibit Ornate marine timepieces (one dating back to 1724 was acquired for £75,000).Guildhall Clockmakers' Museum, Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, EC2 (7332 1868/www.clockmakers.info). St Paul’s tube.
Handel House Museum
Seemingly removed from the modern world, Handel House offers much to soothe and inspire, not just for disciples of the eighteenth century composer, but for lovers of Georgian architecture, interiors and portrait painting. Handel lived here from 1723 to 1759, while composing the ‘Messiah’. You move from room to room, opening doors as if exploring a private residence and Handel’s music plays delicately during frequent recitals.
Best exhibit The museum’s treasured facsimile of the original ‘Messiah’ manuscript, complete with notations and smudges.
Handel House Museum, 25 Brook St, W1 (entrance behind in Lancashire Court) (7495 1685/www.handelhouse.org). Bond St or Oxford Circus tube.
The Horniman Museum's walrus
FREEA 25-foot Alaskan totem pole outside the main entrance gives a clue as to what’s in here: a wealth of quirky anthropological and natural history treasures. You can while away hours perusing the place, but the Grade II-listed natural history gallery – refreshingly devoid of computer touchscreens – possibly contains the most memorable: a comically over-stuffed walrus (the work of an over-zealous 1880s taxidermist).
The Horniman Museum must be south London’s most cherished public attraction. The collection is built upon that of Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman, who began acquiring objects in the 1860s. The buildings are a mix of the original Victorian and recent additions, including the basement aquarium. The gardens’ spectacular views make for pleasurable picnicking. And, if you’re still not convinced, it’s free. Horniman Museum, 100 London Rd, SE23 (8699 1872/www.horniman.ac.uk). Forest Hill rail.
Household Cavalry Museum
Gen up on the cavalry that’s protected royalty from the people for 350 years.
Household Cavalry Museum, Horse Guards, Whitehall, SW1A 2AX (7930 3070/www.householdcavalrymuseum.org.uk). Charing Cross tube/rail.
House Mill Museum
House Mill was a tidal mill on the River Lea, built in 1776 and operated until the 1940s. Occasional tours allow you to explore all five floors.
House Mill Museum, Miller’s House, Three Mill Lane, E3 3DU (8980 4626/www.housemill.org.uk). Bromley-by-Bow tube.
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